The Joys of Costa (other coffee shops are available)
After a difficult day on Thursday at home with the four year old, I felt the need to escape on Friday morning. At home, there was a pile of ironing waiting for me, toys needed putting away, the bathroom needed cleaning and if we were not to starve by Monday, there was a food shop that needed to be tackled. But after the trials of the previous day, I just wanted to write.
The problem of course, was that if I sit at home, whether I work in the dining room, the conservatory, or even my study, there are clear and obvious reminders of all the other things I should be doing. At the moment, writing is not something I am paid to do and consequently, it doesn't always feel like a priority (case in point - I had to break off from typing up my notes for this blog post to help my husband with the washing). My MA is not necessarily going to lead to a lucrative publishing contract (although we can all dream!) so it's all too easy to dismiss it as being unimportant.
But it's not. I started the MA as a way of reclaiming the part of myself that has been subsumed over the years into my roles as wife and mother; that bit of me that is Ruth Groves; the person I was before I had to start 'adulting', who spent half her life in a fantasy world of her own creation, having conversations with characters she'd invented. It's a cliché (and we should always try to avoid those) but I wanted to rediscover myself.
Hence, on Friday morning I packed my bag with all my writing stuff and headed out in the car to Costa Coffee. I love writing in cafés because not only does it get me out of the house and away from distractions, but it also exposes me to a wide range of people, their conversations and their problems. I can't work in complete silence even at home, but have to have background music that I don't sing along to: Phil Kelsall, Aled Jones and Alfie Boe are the usual soundtrack to my writing endeavours, but the background hum of other people often works just as well. Indeed, many conversations - most notably the pregnant lady who had to have baby names that began with 'M' and could only think of Miles and Megan - work their way into my stories.
My local café serves the same purpose but living in a small town, it rarely provides the diversity found in Costa. Had I been at home on Friday, I would probably have accomplished very little. As it is, along with consuming copious amounts of coffee (and of course the obligatory cake) I managed to edit a short story, re-write my commentary and write most of this blog post, as well as various other course-related admin tasks.
My friend and fellow author, Jenny Kane, is currently writer in residence in her local Costa and I asked her about her experiences writing there, as opposed to at home. She said,
'Cafés are the pubs of today. All human life is there, whether it's passing through for a take out or staying to put the world to rights. I'm never stuck for storylines in a café. I'm lucky enough to have a corner desk in my local Costa in Devon, where I'm writer in residence. People are so used to me being there that I'm simply part of the furniture, so am rarely disturbed. Occasionally, however, I have folk coming in to see me, have books signed and ask for advice - which is very flattering. The advantage of café writing is that I'm "going to work" when I walk there - I'm not at the mercy of the "you're at home all day so you can't be working" mentality that home workers often get. I'm also less likely to procrastinate because I'm "at work". People watching doesn't count as procrastination - that's research!'
Thus it is that the lure of the coffee shop is not just about the easy availability of caffeine and cake: it is a place from which to observe the life we write about, a place to find inspiration and a place to find the peace that is so necessary to a writer. The interruptions I've had today have meant that it has taken me longer to type up this post than it did to write it in the first place. Much as I love my husband and children and much as I value the time I have with them in the holidays, there is a part of me that is looking forward to next week when they are all back at school and I can once again lose myself in the world of make-believe without anyone asking me to be practical and lay the table for dinner, help them with homework, or race remote control cars!
If you want to have a look at the fabulous work Jenny produces from her corner in Costa, check out the link below. She's multi-talented, so there's something for everyone either under Jenny Kane, or her alter-ego, Jennifer Ash.